Concerns raised about proposed corridor changes
A U.S. Highway 101 improvement project that's been in the works for more than a decade has been pulled by Caltrans from the May meeting agenda of the California Coastal Commission.
Coastal Commission federal consistency manager Mark Delaplaine said Coastal Commission staff have repeatedly contacted Caltrans about the project.
”We had reservations about what they were proposing,” Delaplaine said.
As part of the project, safety improvements would be made to the U.S. Highway 101 corridor between Eureka and Arcata. The preferred build alternative put forth by Caltrans and the Humboldt County Association of Governments -- a group of elected representatives from local cities and the county that oversees transportation funding and projects -- involves constructing a full interchange at Indianola Road and closing all other medians except for the one at Airport Road. A southbound left-turn-only traffic signal would be placed at Airport Road.
The project was supposed to go before the Coastal Commission on May 10 for a federal consistency certification, to certify it as consistent with the California Coastal Management Program.
Instead, Caltrans withdrew its application after meeting with Coastal Commission staff to discuss concerns. Caltrans staff declined to comment on the project and issued a statement to the Times-Standard.
”Caltrans is still fully committed to safety and operational improvements in the future for the Eureka to Arcata Route 101 corridor, and plan to resubmit our request a future date. This is something we have done with other projects in the past,” the statement said.
Coastal Commission staff are concerned about the proposed interchange and the lack of a guardrail separating bicyclists from the highway. Delaplaine said Caltrans also didn't include previous suggestions from the commission in its plans.
”One of the problems was we had identified an alternative that they didn't include,” Delaplaine said.
He said Caltrans is now looking at the possibility of installing traffic signals at intersections -- an idea that was also proposed by some members of the public during past project meetings.
The fact that Coastal Commission staff are concerned about the project doesn't come as surprise, given that the commission's North Coast District Office sent a letter dated Nov. 16, 2011, to HCAOG stating “the interchange component of the project is inconsistent with the requirements of the Coastal Act.” Previous letters from the commission staff raise concerns about the amount of environmentally damaging wetland fill that would be required to create the interchange.
HCAOG Executive Director Marcella Clem said it doesn't make sense that the commission would deem the Alton interchange, also known as the Roger M. Rodoni Memorial Interchange, consistent and not the proposed Indianola one. The Alton interchange opened in 2010 and links U.S. Highway 101 to State Route 36.
Tim Shreeve, owner of the Farm Store on Jacobs Avenue in Eureka, has been working with business owners along the highway as part of the Corridor Access Project -- a group created to support the highway construction plan -- for more than 10 years. He said the interchange at Indianola Road is critical for motorist safety. He said the CAP group will continue to support the project despite the recent setback.
”As a group, we are continuing to strive to work with local agencies to improve the safety of the 101 corridor,” Shreeve said.
Members of the HCAOG board voted in December -- after heated debate -- to use $16 million in State Transportation Improvement Program funds to start construction on a phased version of the project, including a half-interchange at Indianola Road and a half-traffic signal at Airport Road. The price tag for the entire project, including the full interchange, is estimated at $31.8 million.
If the project doesn't go forward, Clem said, the county stands to lose additional road funds, because including a state highway project in the planning process increases the amount of STIP funding HCAOG can receive for local projects.
”We're basically giving $10 million up to Southern California, because that's where a majority of the money goes,” Clem said.
It's unknown when the project plan might be back before the Coastal Commission.